Shaping Bone Nut and Saddle Blanks with a Plane

Once upon a time, I owned a 6″ belt sander. One of the uses for the sander was to dimension nut and saddle bone blanks. I always hated the smell of burned bone caused by high-speed power sanding. The stench would linger for hours. It smelled like a dental root canal job gone bad! To counteract the smell problem, one could sand manually, although that slows down the material removal to a trickle, wasting a tremendous amount of time.

I don’t have that sander anymore, and I needed to come up with a new way to dimension bone. I once read somewhere about Spanish luthiers using a hand plane to thickness bone. I tried using a standard Stanley block plane, with limited success. The blade was either just glancing off the bone, or digging in too aggressively. I had a hard time controlling the cut. In addition, the edge on the plane iron would get dull rather quickly, crumbling in a few passes.

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After some thinking and experimenting, I modified an old Stanley plane blade to a more obtuse angle (bevel ground to about 50 degrees, on a plane bedded at 20 degrees). Now, instead of fine, burned, smelly dust, I have bone shavings. No smell, and the material removal progresses quickly, and in a very controlled way. The surface of planed bone is very fine and requires no sanding.

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For those of you who have all the sanders you need to shape bone, I just wanted to share my experience, in case you also hate the smell of burned bone. You do have a low-tech, no odor alternative!

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  1. Brilliant idea – I hate the smell of burning bone too. How do you hold or support the bone when planing please?
    Love the look and sound of your guitars – great web site too!

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